Nearly one in five juveniles surveyed in Oklahoma juvenile detention facilities reported some form of sexual abuse while in custody, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Justice Department report, which surveyed more than 8,000 youths in 326 facilities across the country in 2012, placed Oklahoma fourth for highest rate of victimization, at 18.4 percent, nearly double the national average of 9.5 percent. Ohio, South Carolina and California were the only states with higher victimization rates.
The survey covered nearly half of the estimated 18,000 youths in detention facilities in the country. In Oklahoma, however, the sample size was much smaller, as the 46 youths surveyed represented only about 13 percent of the up to 356 state-run secure detention beds.
The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs operates facilities in Tecumseh and Manitou, plus several facilities with lower security levels. In a written statement, the agency expressed some concerns about the study's accuracy. It cited issues outlined in the Justice Department report, particularly that some of the surveys lasted less than 10 minutes and that some youth reported to facility staff that they had been untruthful. However, the study included measures to flag and exclude questionable survey results.
Despite the report's findings, the Office of Juvenile Affairs said it has received only six complaints related to sexual abuse at the facilities included in the survey since 2010; only one was substantiated. Youths are informed about how to make complaints when they enter the facilities.
“When we receive reports of abuse to one of our youth, an aggressive investigation is conducted,” the agency said in its statement.
In 2010, the Department of Justice released a similar study. Although that study didn't include overall state rates, the report listed a 25 percent victimization rate at the now-closed L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, and a 16.7 percent rate at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh. The national average in the 2010 study was 12.1 percent.
The state contracts with numerous detention facilities in Oklahoma, but each facility is responsible for handling its own sexual abuse complaints, a Juvenile Affairs office spokeswoman said.
Editor's note: Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit investigative team established to report on public policy issues in Oklahoma. It is funded by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Tulsa Community Foundation.